Thursday, 7 August 2008


Living, as I mostly do, on caravan and camping sites, I'm a bit of a 'Peeping Tom" on how other people enjoy their leisure time. Only a particular portion of the population, granted, but fascinating, nonetheless. There has been radio time given to 'staycations' lately, the idea being that the 'credit crunch' has caused people to turn away from going away on holiday ( be that going abroad or going away at all) and to stay either in their own homes, or remain in their own country. The impression seems to be that this is something new and original, but I have to say that from my perspective, it's going away that's more of a 'flash in the pan' idea.

I can recall few holidays in my youth, either for myself or for the majority of those I knew (including the comparatively wealthy at my boarding schools) The first true holiday I remember was taken when I was in my early teens, and my stepfather converted an old Bedford van to a camper, by installing 2 bunks, high on either side for my sister and myself, space being kept on the floor for a mattress for him and my mother. We packed basic camping gear and headed for the south west of England, Dorset in particular. I don't remember how long we were away, but I do remember it being very exciting, and, despite various rows and disasters, having an hilarious time - at least one of the disasters being the cause of some of the greatest hilarity! This incident took place in the New Forest, and proper caravan and camping sites were few and far between in those days, there was much more of what is known today as 'wild camping', so we were driving through the Forest, quite late, in the twilight, looking for am open, flat space to stop the night. My mother was at the wheel and Tom, my stepfather, spotted a likely area off the road. Mummy headed off-road into the dusk, and soon came to a small stream. "Drive straight through, there's a good, flat bit on the other side" said Tom, and so, cautiously, my mother went forward - perhaps too cautiously, because we soon had our back wheels stuck in the stream, with the front of the van up on the bank! Suffice to say we had a very uncomfortable night, bunk occupants only held from shooting out the back by the closed doors, and our parents getting wet feet!

To many, today, this would seem like a very unsatisfactory experience. I watch those around me on site, with their enormous TVs, microwaves etc, in enormous caravans with awnings even bigger, and a still larger area staked out with windbreaks, and wonder if they realise how privileged they are. Even those with modern tents seem to take a level of comfort and convenience for granted that I didn't have in my home as a child! I recall, vividly, helping friends to set up their tent in their back garden, prior to going away, when I was about 15. They were a Scouting family and had a big, canvas tent that seemed as big as a marquee to me! However, they set it up in the back garden of a small terraced house, so it can't really have been that big. It took 2 people to carry this tent, not counting the poles, I suppose it must have been about as big as most caravan awnings these days, but so much more complicated and heavy. No lightweight aluminium poles, let alone carbon fibre, in those days, these poles were long and made of wood, with metal caps and fittings, and did not provide a frame over which you draped the canvas - the guy ropes' tension held it all up. I watch old films of Hillary and co. climbing Everest, and my admiration is unbounded, simply because of these heavy, complex canvas tents they relied on for shelter! It took serious skill to set up a tent at all, let alone do it so it stayed up in all weather.

I have unbounded admiration for people like Ray Mears, who learn, preserve and pass on the skills of simple, hunter gatherer style living. We light our barbecues, and kid ourselves we're enjoying the outdoor life - gas barbecues? Outside a caravan that cost several thousand pounds? Pull the other one! Don't misunderstand, I'm not diminishing the value that caravanning or camping holidays offer, quite the reverse, I wish we would all be more grateful for the leisure and comfort we all have in our lives these days, and see them in perspective. So many are feeling hard done by because they can no longer afford to go to Spain, or Bali, even. We live in a wealthy enough society that we can have free time to do with as we wish, without wondering how we'll feed ourselves during that time - that's magical. I'm not that old, only just old enough to claim a bus pass and pension, but I'm old enough to remember having to put cardboard in my only pair of shoes, because my mother couldn't afford to get them mended, let alone buy new ones, and that's, thankfully, a much rarer experience these days.

I was listening, this morning, to an interview with 2 men who work in the City, 2 of the cogs that make up the financial motor of all our lives. They were asked why the 'credit crunch' happened, and they both said 'Greed' - not just the greed of the Banks, but all of us, including Government, determined to have what we wanted, whether we could afford it or not. They were right, if you can afford any kind of holiday, be deeply grateful, and hope that it continues to be the case - we have sown the wind, and there's whirlwinds galore on their way. That doesn't mean life won't be enjoyable, but we all need to learn to get more pleasure from the things that have nothing to do with how wealthy we are, what gadgets we have, how big and glamourous our homes are . . . . etc.etc.etc. We have followed Mammon, and starved our hearts and souls - there's no financial price on joy, success, contentment, and while money is useful, it's only a tool. The value of a tool lies in how it is used, how are you using yours? Or are you too frightened of losing it to put it to use?

To return to vacations/staycations, whichever you are lucky to have, I hope you will value your time more than your wealth, and the people in your life most of all - they are the real wealth of the world, although there are far too many of us, these days! And please remeber that it is harder for a rich man to get into the Kingdom of Heaven than for a camel to go through the eye of a needle - and I don't believe that Jesus was being mystical when he said that, he was talking about here and now. (And in case you're wondering, I don't see myself as Christian, I just recognise good advice when I hear it!)

Having re-read this, I feel I sound a bit 'preachy' - sorry, I don't think i'm wiser than any one else, but I am so sad that we don't seem to be learning from our mistakes, and my heart aches for future generations who will reap what we have sown. I'm no better than anyone else, but this is heartfelt, so I'll let it stand as it is, and hope you will forgive the impression of 'holier than thou'.

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